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date: 25 May 2022

Abstract and Keywords

Everything that Poe wrote is touched by the question of life. Most notably, dead women come back to life, the living switch personhoods with the dead, and hearts dismembered from the body keep on beating. Such existential shifts were typically interpreted as Poe’s take on the Gothic, his engagement with the supernatural, or, as political allegories. Declining to follow any of those directions, this chapter will take Poe’s ideas about life literally and nontrivially. Closely discussing such texts as “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Mesmeric Revelation,” and Eureka, the essay will investigate Poe’s continuous insistence that nothing is inanimate and immaterial, as well as his claim that life can’t be understood according to an anthropomorphic model. Reading his literature against the backdrop of the scientific treatises on life and vitalism that influenced him, this chapter will seek to explain what is at stake in Poe’s statement that even “unorganized matter” is alive and sensuous, endowed with capacity for pain and joy.

Keywords: Edgar Allan Poe, life, form, organism, individuation, vitalism

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